‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ (2022) Review: Wanda Maximoff Deserved Better
This article contains spoilers of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Wanda Maximoff’s first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in Avengers: The Age of Ultron and since then, Elizabeth Olsen has developed her character in multiple movies. The latest, Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (will be referred to as Multiverse of Madness) comes right after the events of the miniseries WandaVision, where Wanda and Vision (Paul Bettany) live in an idealised suburban and picture-perfect life — but they soon realise that not everything is as it seems. Olsen has perfected the art of playing complex characters and with the introduction of Scarlet Witch at the end of the show, it was only just the beginning. But what is interesting in both WandaVision and Multiverse of Madness is how different Wanda’s characteristics and motives are, and the movie takes a step back in her growth.
After the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which opened the possibility of travelling within the multiverse, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) encounters America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a mysterious being with the power to travel through dimensions. Together with Wong (Benedict Wong), the Sorcerer Supreme, they are tasked to protect her from an evil that seeks to take control of her power. Soon, they find out that Wanda, who now possesses the powers of Scarlet Witch under the Darkhold, is the one trying to take control of America’s unimaginable powers to bring back her children from another universe. Wanda is willing to do whatever it takes to get her children back and unleashes chaos for Strange, Wong, America, and other familiar faces, old and new, from different multiverses.
Wanda’s journey from a trauma survivor to an antagonist is a whiplash. Raimi’s movie, even though it is quite enjoyable at times, due to its horror elements, repeats the same story in WandaVision. The show uses grief as the plot device and presents Wanda and Vision in the world of different sitcoms from the 1950s to the 2010s. It subverts the sexist tropes of an unstable woman and writes a nuanced portrayal of a young woman dealing with the loss of her loved ones. After witnessing the death of her brother Pietro and being forced to kill Vision, the love of her life, only for Thanos to reverse back in time and kill him instead, Wanda has been through a lot. As such, her loneliness manifests and she creates a picture-perfect world, where she and Vision are able to live a normal life with their children, born from her powers. She keeps it separate from the rest of the world, forcing the inhabitants of the town to be subjected to her powers against their will. Superheroes aren’t perfect, but when Wanda realises that her self-made bubble is causing more harm than good, she learns to let go of her trauma and move on.
One of the most defining moments in WandaVision’s episode eight is during a flashback scene between Vision and Wanda, in which he delivers the line, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” The reaction to the line is universally human, and director Matt Shakman states in an interview with IGN, “[Episode 8]…it pulls back the curtain on what the whole story has been all season, and hopefully folks can go back and look at episodes one, two, and three in a new light now. This is a story about love, it’s about loss, it’s about grief, it’s about how we move on from loss…” Vision’s words help her to find solace in her grief and she realises that she cannot continue to hurt other people in an attempt to ease her own pain. This is what makes WandaVision so poignant, and why Shakman and showrunner Jac Schaeffer were committed to showing Wanda’s emotions without portraying her as a “crazy lady” narrative. However, when the Multiverse of Madness introduced Wanda/Scarlet Witch, that’s when things turned ugly.
Multiverse of Madness brings back the “crazy lady” trope and repeats the exact storyline from the show, only for Wanda to relive her trauma again. In this version, she turns back on everything she learnt from the show, from the very moment with Vision about forgiveness and solace, only to turn back around and inflict harm on people. She becomes the villain, and for what? In an interview with Variety, screenwriter Michael Waldron states that Wanda’s grief and anger were never resolved in the show and her desire to bring back her kids was her main motive. Roslyn Talusan writes, “Essentially, the entertainment value of writing the Scarlet Witch as a villain was more important than honouring the character’s humanity in the way that Schaeffer did with WandaVision. Multiverse of Madness gives us a story that condemns yet another trauma survivor — an immigrant woman from a politically destabilised country, no less — to a life of hopelessness, despair, and isolation.” Multiverse of Madness doesn’t want to show Wanda’s growth and her healing, rather Waldron characterises her as a woman who is incapable of learning from her past.
Wanda isn’t a simple character. She is a complex and relatable character that believes that she is unworthy of love. Even when Agatha weaponises and makes her relive her trauma in the most brutal way possible, she rises from the ashes and shows humanity and compassion. She accepts her mistakes and apologizes for the harm that she caused others. This is what makes her storyline in Multiverse of Madness so disappointing; Wanda Maximoff has endured a lot of sexist tropes and the male gaze has regressed the storytelling and her characterisation. Her actions in the Multiverse of Madness, which include destroying multiple universes, erase her fundamental growth in WandaVision. What makes things worse is that her sacrifice at the end of the movie is implied to make things better, but the damage is already done. It’s unnecessary, and goes against giving her a more heroic ending, one where she takes control of her narrative and stays true to her character development. Despite the trauma and pain she suffers in Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame and WandaVision, Wanda has always known that she can use her powers for good.
Olsen, once again, does a fantastic job bringing the character to life and yet, it’s sad to see her take a step back instead of exploring the endless possibilities of ideas that were explored in the show. She fully embraces herself as the Scarlet Witch and unleashes hell (Wanda is in her girlboss, gaslight, gatekeep era) on one of the most irritating Marvel characters (and we love to see it). An insanely show-stopping performance topped with Raimi’s use of horror elements makes it the only thing that makes the movie worthwhile. There’s nothing significant in the storytelling of Multiverse of Madness, and Marvel’s new fashion of introducing cameos to bring more audiences to watch these movies has become quite unremarkable. It won’t be surprising if Marvel keeps doing this for the rest of their movies and TV shows.
Edited by: Raayaa Imthiyaz